by Alice E. Gerard
The sun shone brightly Oct. 19. In the parking lot near River Lea, in Beaver Island State Park, a family stepped out of a car. Curt Nestark, president of the Grand Island Historical Society, was getting pumpkins and potted chrysanthemums out of his truck when he noticed the family, getting ready to begin a fall foliage walk.
Walking over to them, he invited them to the unveiling of the large stone that was donated by Cathy of Whitehaven Road to the Grand Island Historical Society. The large stone, which has been described by some as a sharpening stone and by others as a millstone, had been placed at the edge of the parking lot. Its future home will be in a garden area near the house.
Before long, the parking lot was full. Historical Society members, Boy Scouts, troop leaders, small children and others gathered around the stone, as the unveiling of the newest addition to the Historical Society's museum at River Lea commenced. Town Supervisor Mary Cooke estimated approximately 50 persons attended the unveiling.
Nestark invited everyone who participated in the donation of the stone to the Grand Island Historical Society to speak.
"I never realized what a big impact this (the stone) would make on the community," said Boy Scout Ricky Hoover, 15, for whom preparing the stone for donation to the Historical Society is his Eagle Scout project.
Erik Carlson, who donated the materials for the stone's metal stand and who instructed Ricky in designing and making the stand, said, "I was surprised by the size of the stone. It is of industrial scale. We guessed the weight (of the stone) wrong. We had forgotten about the width. It seemed heavier than 150 pounds."
The stone weighs approximately 650 pounds.
How the stone came to be under the ground near Whitehaven Road is a mystery. The stone's donor, Cathy, said, "It was in my backyard. I wasn't sure where it came from." Her backyard had been part of the Stamler farm.
Cooke said that, before Caleb started digging in his grandmother's backyard, no one "had any idea that the stone was there. It could have stayed there for (another) 100 years" before anyone found it.
Carlson said there is much not known about the stone but he suggested, "It might have been used for logging, maybe at the sawmill on Whitehaven Road." The sawmill operated in the 19th century.
Nestark said the mystery surrounding the stone will encourage interest in local history by residents of all ages, from children participating in the fourth-grade tour to adults attending a Christmas luncheon. "It will generate more questions about what it is and what it was used for and what powered it. Being that there is no water falling on the Island, it had to be driven by steam. Steam engines were here, beginning in 1830."
Cooke said, "I was so pleased that the stone ended up on the Island because it didn't have to. The stars lined up just right. It was meant to be. Caleb (Cathy's 6-year-old grandson) had to dig to find the stone. It was nice to have community participation" in the process of having the stone brought to River Lea.
"River Lea is the perfect spot" for the stone. "It is viewable at any time," Cooke said.
According to Nestark, Helen Black, the historical society's publicity chair, played a big role in having the stone brought to River Lea. Black said she was looking to involve children at River Lea. She had organized a children's program last year, when the children recreated a pet cemetery at River Lea. She said she was thinking about getting children involved in fixing up the fountain, but then realized the project was too difficult and would require the professional, and potentially expensive, services of a stone mason.
Then she found out about the grinding stone. When she asked Ricky, who was looking for an Eagle Scout project, if he would be interested in working on the stone, he said, "I love history. I remember my fourth-grade tour."
Ricky's father, Rick, said that the project was really great for his son and that it involved much more than just digging and mounting the stone. Ricky "learned how the town and the historical society operate," he said.
Rick added, "Cathy was great" and was very supportive of Ricky's project.
"It was a cool project," Rick said. "Someday, Ricky will bring his kids to see it."
"It is a wonderful addition to the historical society. It should renew interest in the history of the farming that was done on the island," Nestark said, adding he was very grateful for all of the work that was done in making the project possible. "Thank you to Cathy from Whitehaven for donating. Thank you to Helen Black for initiating the Scout and the troop (Scout Troop 630) to get involved. Thank you to the Carlson family for donating their equipment and to the Hoover family for donating their time. Also, thank you to the Island Dispatch for doing a three-part story on such a magnificent piece of Island history."
"This was a community project," Black said. "Everyone worked together."